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On Manning, Fracking and Walker’s Chickens
Posted on Jun 9, 2011
Josh Scheer: Now, playing psychic now, what do you think is going to happen to Bradley Manning? Obviously, we know what should happen, right, he should go to trial and then ultimately be released.
Scott Tucker: At the very least, he should get a fair trial.
Josh Scheer: But do you think that’s going to happen, or do you think they’ll hold him in contempt, or treason, or the possibility of death for the next X amount of years?
Scott Tucker: It’s hard to get a fair trial when the president of the United States has already said that he broke the law.
Kasia Anderson: On the topic of WikiLeaks, it’s also true, I think, that what I said about the mainstream media feeling ambivalent toward WikiLeaks—they also have come to rely on WikiLeaks as a source of information while not always, let’s say, making that predominantly clear in their reporting. So …
Scott Tucker: They want to have it both ways. They want to … first of all, the mainstream, established media is in a panic that there’s going to be other venues, other modes of communication, that are going to go under, over and around the dead tree media—that’s only one aspect—but also around the nightly broadcast news. This really rattles their nerves. And with WikiLeaks, of course, there’s a particular concern about state secrecy. Well, as citizens in a democracy, we all have to take responsibility for the wars that are being waged. It’s not like we got to vote on whether those wars were going to be waged in our name or not. They were waged without our consent for the most part. And the decisions were made behind closed doors. So this goes to the heart of democracy, but it also goes to the sort of seismic changes in the communications technology. This is all unknown territory, and we’re discovering it day by day as we go along.
And some of these sources were a little late to the online party, let’s say, so … [Laughter]
Scott Tucker: That’s true.
Josh Scheer: Well, thank you very much for joining us, Scott, for coming in. We were speaking with Scott Tucker, who’s a writer, democratic socialist, founding member of ACT Up Philadelphia, and the author of “The Queer Question: Essays on Desire and Democracy.” Thanks again for joining us. And for Kasia, for Scott, for Josh, this was Truthdig; thank you very much.
Tom Kenworthy: Hey, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.
Josh Scheer: And we’re talking about your article “Bringing Fracking to the Surface,” which I think was released yesterday.
Tom Kenworthy: Ah, a couple days ago.
Josh Scheer: A couple days ago. So now, briefly to our audience—I heard this is only in the periphery. I mean, I know that it’s a big deal with natural gas, but what is fracking?
Tom Kenworthy: Fracking, which is sort of the shorthand term for the more technical term of hydraulic fracturing, is a method of enhancing mostly natural gas production, though it’s used in some oil wells as well. It’s a process that’s been—it was first used, oh gosh, 50 or 60 years ago, but is much more sophisticated now. And it’s used in combination with horizontal drilling, and what it’s done is it’s opened up the ability to drill successfully for natural gas in unconventional formations, primarily shale gas, which is gas trapped in shale rock deep beneath the surface. And the brief explanation of how it works, it involves pumping in high pressure a mixture of mostly water but also involving sand and chemicals, and what it does is it fractures the rock deep underground and allows the gas to come to the surface.
Josh Scheer: And how bad for us is this?
Tom Kenworthy: Well, that’s a matter of great debate. With the ability and discovery of really, really vast shale gas formations going from western New York state down into Pennsylvania, and also in Arkansas and Louisiana and Texas, the United States is really awash in natural gas. And many estimates say we have enough gas now to last more than a century; and gas, because it’s cleaner than coal, has the ability or at least the promise to reduce our carbon emissions. And so we’ve seen a big rush to drill, particularly in areas in Pennsylvania and in New York and Arkansas and Louisiana, in [some] places where they haven’t seen much drilling before. And hydraulic fracturing is becoming a very controversial practice; there are a lot of fears that it can lead to contamination of water supplies. There are concerns that with some exceptions, the chemicals used are not publicly disclosed. And it’s an underground injection process that is not regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. So it’s quite a controversy, and it’s a long way from over.
Kasia Anderson: You mention in your article that the Obama administration is starting to get going with getting involved in this issue. What’s the status on that at this point?
Tom Kenworthy: Yeah, there’s a couple of things going on there. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting what appears like it’s going to be a quite thorough investigation into hydraulic fracturing. They did kind of a cursory one some years ago that was criticized as insufficient, and this one is—I think the final results may not come out until 2013 or 2014; they’re taking their time. And more recently, Energy Secretary Steven Chu appointed a subcommittee to his scientific advisory panel that is doing its own, more fast-track investigation into some of these issues. And one of the great questions here, and it’s become a lot more interesting lately, is to what extent natural gas is really superior to coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. There’ve been some conflicting studies on that, and one of the things that my organization is pushing for is for kind of a definitive study, perhaps by the National Academy of Sciences, that would really settle this question once and for all. Because it’s really, it’s very important; it makes … we are, my organization is generally supportive of natural gases as kind of a bridge fuel to a cleaner energy future. But if it turns out that gas really isn’t cleaner in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t make sense to have a big transition now.
Kasia Anderson: Tom, I was going to push you a little bit on that last point. Do you personally—or professionally, I guess the combination of the two—do you have a stance on fracking that you can sum up, or are you still kind of waiting to see what happens, too?
Tom Kenworthy: Well, I think I’m waiting to see what happens. I live in Colorado, where we went through a big drilling boom back during the Bush, the administration of George W. Bush. And what we found here was that the regulatory structure at the state level—and states do a lot of this regulation—really wasn’t equipped to handle the big rush. And we went through a couple-year period where we wrote our oil and gas regulations to better protect water and wildlife and those kinds of things. And you’re seeing that same thing back in the East, in Pennsylvania and New York, where the regulators just really aren’t equipped. I mean, my position on it is I believe that gas holds out significant promise as a cleaner fuel; but it has to be done in a manner that protects public health and safety and the environment. And part of that process is tougher regulation, both at the federal and state level.
Josh Scheer: Well, you talk about regulation, and you were talking about the Safe Drinking Water Act. And you talk about it in your piece; Congress enacted a lot of laws in the ’70s and ’80s that there are exemptions from the oil industry, like the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act, Resource Conversation and Recovery Act, and Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, and the last one being the National Environmental Policy Act. And each one had things stripped out, like the Clean Water Act has oil and gas operations exempt from storm-water runoff regulation, and along those lines. Until we can fix those regulations, are we not going to see a change? I mean, is this going to just be dangerous? I mean, shouldn’t they have the same regulations, and how do we help the states get better regulations?
Tom Kenworthy: Well, I think part of the issue there is for policymakers in Washington to take a hard look at those exemptions and see whether they should be repealed. You know, the Safe Drinking Water Act is a good example. This is one of those foundational environmental laws we have that guards against the injection of hazardous materials underground, and hydraulic fracturing was never regulated under that act. But in 2005, as these natural gas fields were opening up, Congress explicitly exempted hydraulic fracturing from that act. And that’s a loophole that should be closed, and we should have full disclosure of the chemicals that are used. The industry argument by the oil service companies that do the drilling is that—historically it’s been that these concoctions are, you know, they’re kind of like Coca-Cola recipes; they don’t disclose them. But we’re seeing movement now by the companies voluntarily to disclose, but there’s still a long way to go on that. And just in the past few weeks we’ve had states like even Texas, which is sort of the most prominent oil and gas state in the country, the Legislature down there is moving to have disclosure of those chemicals. So there’s a range of things in these laws, and some of them major, some of them less major, that really should be looked at. And I think there’s an obligation by the state oil and gas commissions to make sure that they’re protecting their citizens, because some of these federal laws are actually implemented and enforced at the state level.
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